Thou Shalt Read More Graphic Novels: The Walking Dead

A few months back, I made the commitment to read more graphic novels. It was a challenge to myself to try out a form of literature that has previously been pretty foreign to me, and an area of storytelling I was curious about.

After a fair bit of encouragement from those within the community, I spent a fair amount of money (and dropped some heavy-handed hints to my loved ones about birthday gifts) on some of the novels I was recommended, and some I already had my eye on. Which brings me on to this first (and majorly overdue) update/review on the topic.

It’s no secret that I’m a major fan of The Walking Dead. It’s not a perfect franchise by any stretch, but I can’t get enough of it. I’ve recently finished Telltale Games The Walking Dead: Season Two and loved the hell out of it (yeah… I cried, like, three times). I’ve also re-watched the entire show run from Season One to the latest episode in about a week.

All of this combined was not enough to sate my thirst, so I finally cracked on with the source material. WARNING: I’ve avoided most spoilers for those up-to-date with the TV show, but if you’ve never seen the show before, read on at your own risk!

What’s it about?

rick

The Walking Dead opens with small-town cop, Rick Grimes in the middle of a shoot-out which results in him falling into a coma. Upon awakening, he finds that life as he knows it has turned completely upside down as “roamers” (the undead) walk the earth, hungry for human flesh. It’s essentially the opening to 28 Days Later, in the United States.

Rick is our primary protagonist and semi-reluctant leader to a group of survivors, including his young son Carl, wife Lori, best friend Shane, and a whole host of other characters who have found themselves working together to survive the horrors of the new world.

I’ve been reading the comic through Compendium One and Two, meaning I’ve now read up to Issue #96, which is a little further ahead of the TV show. I imagine the events up to and including Issue #96 will either coincide with the mid-season finale, or the actual finale of the upcoming season, but that’s just speculation.

What’s good about it?

The primary point I feel I have to emphasise about this series is that it’s not really about zombies. The zombies are simply the catalyst for the drama that takes place between the living; they’re pretty much a graphic backdrop for the story to unfold before.

And that’s what makes this comic so fantastic. Zombie storytelling had become a joke not too far back – and still is to a certain extent – but this series highlights how it can be a visually spectacular way to showcase powerfully dramatic stories about humanities’ mentality in drastic situations.

michonne

The characters are incredibly complex and developed fantastically well – particularly Andrea, Michonne, Carl and Rick. The primary villain I’ve encountered so far – The Governor – is amongst the most brutally sadistic I’ve read across all literature types, and genuinely made my skin crawl. Yet, when Michonne enacts her equally sadistic revenge, I was forced into a personal moral quandary which has stuck with me since.

For the most part, the series avoids making any claims of right or wrong in its characters, choosing instead to showcase them as real humans stuck in a horrific situation, without laws or standard societal rules to live by. It takes its characters to the darkest places, and drags the reader along for the ride, leaving them to make their own decisions as to whether those actions are excusable or not.

Additionally, the art work is stunningly raw. The black and white style compliments the story beautifully, and captures a stark, haunting reality I hadn’t thought possible in this genre. Some of the scenes depicted are horrifying in their realism, and implore you to read on with dread. My eyes were forced to linger on scenes that made me honestly uncomfortable, which is exactly what I want from a horror series.

What’s bad about it?

My primary issue with the series is it’s handling of female characters. Beyond Andrea and Michonne, women tend to be portrayed as weak and changeable, causing drama for all of the wrong reasons.

One of my favourite elements of the TV show is its portrayal of the range of female anti-heroines, particularly Carol who is one of the best female characters on TV at the minute. Unfortunately, her alter-character in the book is just… awful. Likewise, the Maggie of the comic books is almost unrecognisable in comparison to her TV counterpart.

dale fear the hunters

This ties in with my other issue with the comics, in that the story moves a little too quickly for my taste. Strong, intriguing and complex storylines are resolved surprisingly quickly (such as Volume 11: Fear the Hunters), and this means there’s a lack of development in certain areas. I get that there are only so many characters who can be given the spotlight in the franchise and maintain an active storyline, but I wish there were more than two female characters I could rally behind.

This fast-paced story telling is, I imagine, the major drawback of reading the series as a compendium. Had I been reading these 96 issues as individual releases, it probably wouldn’t have felt so quick… but I also wouldn’t be able to stand the wait between each issue.

The Verdict

I was always going to love this. I love the show, the game series and now I love the comic books. It serves as a great introduction for those who haven’t really read comics before, and it’s a story I can’t wait to carry on. I’m excited to find out about Negan and see the developments with the Hill Top group. I have my own theories about how Alexandria is going to play out, and Carl’s storyline is finally starting to pique my interest. There’s a lot to look forward to in continuing this series, which I haven’t felt from a book for a long time.

Compendium Three is out in October, so I’ll be dropping some heavy hints again come Christmas, if I can stand to wait that long. The Telltale Games mini-series centring on Michonne is also due out in 2016, and I can’t wait to play that either. The Walking Dead is a hugely welcome addition to my book shelf, and I would absolutely recommend it to other readers curious about the publication.

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